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3 Management Lessons from the Worst TV and Movie Bosses

Darth-vader-swMany of us—whether intentional or not—model ourselves after those we see on television and in movies. We often identify with a character, and use their responses to situations to help shape our own views of the world and how we react to it.

For example, how many of us haven’t tried to parent like Heathcliff Huxtable, stay cool under pressure like Han Solo, or be as careful with sharp objects as Edward Scissorhands?

Well, this can be a double-edged sword, as some of the most entertaining onscreen personalities have less than favorable real-life personalities.

In this post, we’ll call out some of the shortcomings of well-known TV and movie bosses, and detail how you can learn from their mistakes to become a better manager.  

A Manager’s Mindset: Michael Scott—The Office

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For 11 seasons (nine in the US +  two in the UK), The Office’s Michael Scott’s exploits have redefined what it means to be insensitive, clueless and self-centered. While he’s good-natured and genuinely cares about his employees (except Toby), Michael Scott’s actions were generally motivated by his compulsive need to be loved and praised.

According to the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, great companies are lead by those who put aside their egos for the betterment of the team and company. “Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

This sentiment is supported by The Wall Street Journals Essential Guide to Management,The best managers are always striving to create such well-functioning organizations that they become unnecessary.

This may involve giving others credit, hiring ambitious employees, accepting responsibility for the mistakes of others, or allowing subordinates to shine, many of the things that run counter intuitive to your own advancement. However, the best managers, the ones that really strengthen an organization, put company and team first, and themselves second.

Quick Tip: Share this article with your boss so they realize it too.

Motivating Employees: Darth Vader—Star Wars

Darth-vader-swDaniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, would likely describe Darth Vader’s motivational style as “coercive”—demanding immediate compliance—based on his propensity for fear, intimidation and force choking. Vader’s motivational style is never more on display than when in response to the second Death Star commander’s claim that crews are working as hard as they can to finish construction, he menacingly states, “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.” Crews promptly doubled their efforts.

While the rebels destroyed the second Death Star before we could learn how effective Vader’s motivational style was, Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, explains that the most effective motivation comes down to autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Great managers provide their teams with:

  • The freedom to made decisions.
  • The tools needed to command or grasp a subject.
  • A sense of providing real value to the organization.

Leadership: Bill Lumbergh—Office Space

LumberghHi reader, what’s happening? Umm, I’m going to need you to put the above recommendations into practice, while I go on sipping on my coffee and double checking TPS reports for covers. OK? That’d be great.

It’s hard to stay engaged and productive with managers like Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, largely because they don’t seem to really do anything aside from dole out work. According to Victor Lipman’s article, 7 Management Practices that can Improve Employee Productivity, “Nothing demoralizes employees more quickly than seeing senior leaders act in a way they don’t respect, and few things energize employees more than a senior team they admire.

According to the Essential Guide to Management, “Modern management requires not just organizational skills, but also leadership skills; that the authority of managers comes not just from their formal position, but also from their ability to make work meaningful; and that the ultimate success of managers depends not just on telling workers what to do, but also on making them want to do it.”

According to Warren Bennis, author of, On Becoming a Leader, the differences between managers and leaders comes down to the following:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

While it would be nice to take all the credit, force choke if needed and sip coffee all day, the best business managers understand the demands and responsibilities of their positions, and relish in the idea of making their businesses and teams great.

For more information on being a better manager, make sure to check out all the books cited throughout this post. Each is an excellent resource on building a stronger business and becoming a better manager.

Please share any other management tips you have in the comments section below.

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